OM424 - Der Grosser

This week, Ken and John talk about:

John doing comedy German (OM424)

John has been doing so much comedy German in his life that he can’t separate it from the real thing anymore. Usually when Ken is making German jokes all his kids hear is: ”Der, der, der!” When John was touring Germany he learned a little bit of the language and he could do comedy German better than he can now. He doesn’t even remember the accents anymore because it has been so long and he hasn’t been in Germany in a decade and he misses it.

Being interested in fancy cars, but never having driven one (OM424)

Ken doesn’t have fancy car friends that give him rides in their fancy cars. He has been sent limos, and car services will often be a nice Lincoln, Mercedes or BMW. Lincoln or Cadillac SUV's are a bit of a bummer.

One time during the early days of car services John was in San Francisco late at night, walking around in North Beach. A friend wanted to get a car and he pulled out his phone and called a car. Everyone else doubted him, but all of a sudden a Stretch Hummer Limo with ground effects and a disco ball inside pulled up out of nowhere. It made for an eventful last part of the evening!

One time Ken was a guest on a talk show and the guest that was on before him, the real guest, was Sacha Baron Cohen. Ken never actually set eyes on him, but his assistant was out in the hall, yelling at some car service because Sacha wanted a Stretch Hummer and they were telling him that they didn’t have that and would have to send some other stretch limo. Ken didn’t even know such a car existed until he overheard that conversation.

Weirdly, despite having been an auto aficionado his whole life and reading about cars and having websites bookmarked on his browser, a lot of them about old and used cars, John really hasn’t been in any of these cars because he doesn’t know anybody who has cars like this and most of his friends don’t have any interest in them.

John has never driven a Porsche. He has rented a Mercedes at one point, but not a hot one. Ken’s wife’s brother in law sold his tech company at one point and bought a fancy Corvette of some kind and offered Ken to drive it, but Ken didn’t not really want to, he just wanted him to take him on a ride and show him the features and to this day he probably thinks Ken is no fun.

There was a kid in John’s neighborhood that got a Corvette in 1983 when they completely redesigned it. It was the first car with a digital speedometer, and it was all new, it didn’t look like the old Stingrays, but it looked like a door stop, and he let John drive it. That was peak American lack-of-horsepower years and it was just a gutless plasticy thing.

Shopping for an EV (OM424)

Ken has been shopping for a new EV because his beloved Chevy Volt got T-boned by one of his son’s friends. It was a great car and one day there will be vintage Chevy Volts! There is already a crazy aftermarket for them because they stopped making them. If you want to buy a new electrical vehicle now you really have to buy car as toy. They are not making boring electric cars because the selling point is that it is new and cool.

It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that the 4-seater privately owned car is a really dumb, inefficient way to move people from place to place, much less to build a whole society around. We had horse carts and they were square and had four wheels for a reason, but as they evolved into cars there were 1000 different ways that human beings could have gone in terms of solving the problem of: ”My family needs to go from point A to B fast and out of the rain!”

John’s parents being car people (OM424)

John likes cars and thinks about cars. A lot of it is a product of an earlier time because both his parents were very into cars and when he was a kid they would talk about cars and they thought about cars. They were Chrysler people for a lot of that time and in the early years of their marriage they had matching 1964 Plymouth Convertibles. John's mom had bought hers separately and John’s dad then bought his to match hers because he liked hers so much.

Both cars were white, but John’s mom’s had red upholstery and his dad’s had black upholstery. Crucially for their marriage John’s mom’s Plymouth was faster than his dad’s, and he would borrow hers because it was noticeably hotter. Some previous owner kid had hotted up hers and it was actually a contentious issues in their marriage that she had a faster car. Neither one of them were mechanical people, they didn’t soup up their cars, but they were conscious of them as American design vernacular.

John’s parents eventually migrated out of Chrysler products at the end of the 1970s when Chrysler hit the skids pre K-car. John’s mom had a Dodge Dart Swinger through the 1970s and his dad had a Chrysler Imperial and both switched to European cars in 1981. John’s dad drove Audi’s, but made the classic 1980s mistake of buying Diesel Audi’s which had a top speed of 70 mph and went 0-60 in 11 minutes. Diesel was the fuel of the future in European fashion, but it was not a performance fuel.

John convincing his mom to buy a Peugeot 604 (OM424)

In his 1980s teenage Alaska Euro status consciousness John convinced his mom to buy a used Peugeot 604, the big Peugeot that (François) Mitterrand drove. It was a head of state car if you were French. It was parked on the side of the road with a for-sale sign and John thought it was the most beautiful car.

He convinced his mom to buy it against every practical Ohio farm girl bone in her body, and it was a tremendous car, but it had wheels made out of lithium and any time you breathed on them they dented and there was no way to fix them. It was quirky in every way and didn’t fit his mom’s personality, but he loved being 16 in it.

She got rid of her Dodge Dart Swinger that was made in the old American way, meaning it didn’t handle at all. It sat up on bouncy springs and when John got his learner’s permit he spun it out on the ice and buried it up to the sills in snow, but you can still pass your driver’s test in Alaska when you do that, John got a big round of applause and the tow truck driver said: ”Wow, you really buried this sucker!”

John’s mom realized that the power to weight ratio was too great for how light it was and how squirrelly it was, so she bought this Peugeot because it was a big heavy car and it was supposed to stick to the road better, which is the logic up there, and if you crash you have more steel around you.

Contemporary cars becoming less interesting (OM424)

1964 was almost the best year for American cars. It was a real status symbol, and the car and the brand that you chose said something about you. Especially in America there was a constant redesign of cars because it was the dawn of marketing and their industrial prowess allowed them to make a masterpiece car for only two years and then redesign it completely.

John grew up being able to tell the make and model of every car on the road, and as they would be driving along they would play a game and guess the Mercury Montego as soon as the car would come over the rise. John was able to do it all the way to the mid-to-late 2000s before the automotive vernacular became flattened and every car looks alike, they all look like Camry’s.

Another reason could be that John is losing interest. A lot of it is regulatory and the shape of the pillars or the crunch zone has to be a certain way. Consumers also no longer have the discernment or the imagination. On a photograph of a cityscape in 1972 there was a diversity of shapes and car colors, and now it is grey, dark-grey, white, black, red.

When John bought his truck recently he looked hard to find one that was not black white grey or red, but the only ones available had unimaginative versions of blue and a different color red. The most colorful color that Ken could find when he bought his new car was called Midnight, and it is a blueish black.

John doesn’t think he lost interest in cars, but cars lost interest in him and they became much less interesting. That said, contemporary cars are in every way a superior technology compared to classic cars, and even though 1964 was the greatest year of American cars they didn’t have seatbelts, they could only go really fast in a straight line very briefly, and then they had a hard time stopping. They weren’t good cars compared to now, they were primitive!

European cars of the 1960s were universally smaller, lighter, better handling, and with smaller motors. They were zippy and could actually corner whereas American cars were built to go long distances straight.

Going to McDonald’s in the BMW of the boss of the Genera Hypercolor Warehouse (OM424)

One time John worked at a warehouse in Bellevue Washington that distributed Hypercolor shirts (see OM42) and the guy who was running Genera was not much older than John and he drove a BMW 320i, which was not a fancy car, but at the time it was considered pretty sporty. One time he came by to meet everybody and he said: ”You know what! I am going to buy lunch for everybody in the warehouse!” and he threw John the keys to his beamer and asked him to go to McDonald’s and buy lunch for everybody.

At the time John was an inveterate pot smoker and he went: ”Right on, man!”, he got in this BMW, thought: ”There has got to be a McDonalds around here somewhere!” and he drove around for an hour. There might have been one on the other side of the street right there, but John thought there must also be one on his side of the street.

When he finally found a McDonalds that met his standards he bought some random bags of food and when he came back the boss was furious because he was sure John was taking his car out and was drifting around Kirkland, but John hadn’t done that at all, he was just driving sedately from stop light to stop light, too baked to make a decision which McDonald’s to go to.

John didn’t get fired, but he ended up quitting because he was too baked to work a job: ”I have to go to work again? What kind of world is this?” Eventually John had to stop smoking pot, not because he ever went to jail, but because it really severely constraint his motivation to do anything.

House colors (OM424)

The other day John read an article that there is now a divisive social issue in San Francisco where people are painting their Victorian houses in ubiquitous gunmetal grey, which is the worst house choice. Six years ago there was not a grey house in Seattle and then there were a few and they really popped, but now you can’t drive down any neighborhood street without seeing three grey houses. Ken painted his house sky blue in the same year that everybody did sky blue, so he can’t say anything.

John’s house is tomato red! For 60 years of its life it was stained in a red stain, but when they were preparing it to sell they didn’t want to deal with the stain and they painted it and now you can’t go back and return it to stain. As John has lived there more and more he realized that there are few red houses and many gunmetal grey houses.

In San Francisco there is the Painted Ladies crowd who wants to preserve San Francisco's weird Victorian houses with 60 different colors in their trim. Apparently when those houses were built they were just white and grey. The paintedness was an affectation that came later and it became a signature style of San Francisco, but now the tech millennials who want their house gunmetal grey are super-proud of that and think that looks amazing, like a battleship or a spacecraft. It is a drag!

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